Live Review: Dead Prez are still bigger than hip hop – Metro Theatre, Sydney (11.12.19)

Sincere motivational rhymes about veganism and leading a healthy lifestyle may have been the last thing you would have expected from a dead prez concert. That is, if you thought the anthemic chant of their signature hit, “Hip Hop”, was nothing more than an infectious hook.

The now veteran duo of stic.man and M1 don’t do anything by half-measure, and everything they say has meaning.

In 2019, the phrase “for the culture” is frequently thrown around, often by 20-somethings eagerly anticipating the latest Bad Bhabie song and willingly promoting, funding, hyping and advocating for entertainers who are explicit caricatures of the very same culture they so greedily eat off of. It now means nothing, and those screaming “for the culture” are often anything but.

Although if you were to apply “for the culture” to a duo like dead prez, you’d be getting straight to the core of what the phrase really means.

Dead Prez have always been bigger than just two emcees making dope records. Known for iconoclastic rhymes loaded with profundities and burning with righteous fury, the New Yorkers have produced some of the grimiest, most confronting and unapologetic rap since N.W.A were at their peak. 2000’s Let’s Get Free and 2004’s Revolutionary But Gangsta are not just albums, but mantras and meditations on genuine social justice issues, laced with powerful punches at colonialism and oppression of all kinds.

“Power to the indigenous” their DJ MikeFlo shouts to a growing crowd, edged into the side stage of Sydney’s Metro Theatre – the one that’s reserved for smaller shows. Intimate and full of energy, the room raises a fist, whether sincere or not, to salute the ideals of emancipation and reparation – the very same that course through dead prez’s lyrics and bring them to life.

It’s bigger than hip hop.

The buzz of anticipation is still high from excellent support sets, seemingly chosen to highlight two Australian emcees pushing the culture forward. Lil’ Spacely from Sydney’s west stomps over tough beats, spraying punctuated rhymes and showing tremendous potential for someone who’s still on the come-up. Next, Canberra’s Genesis Owusu proves why he is now one of the country’s best hopes for international glory, sharpening his flamboyant style with a nicely curated show that plays heavy on eccentricity and energy. “Fuck off” yells a chiselled bogan from the back, obviously displeased Owusu dare stepped out of his caged idea of how a real rapper should act. I see the same guy joyfully bouncing around the widespread mosh at the end of the set, clearly impressed by what just went down.

It’s bigger than hip hop.

Introduced to a reggae soundtrack of Peter Tosh and Max Romeo, M1 and stic.man come out swinging with “Police State”, straight-faced while they rap lines like “bring the power back to the street, where the people live” and “the state is this organized bureaucracy”. It seems perfect timing, given just hours prior Sydney CBD was swept by an enormous protest, begging an uncaring Prime Minister to take action on climate change, loudly chanting despite the thick bush fire smoke that threatened to choke. “The power is always in the people”, shout dead prez.

It’s bigger than hip hop.

Black Rob’s “Woah” is flipped with deep-cut “That’s War!” and M1 gets into some solo material with “Sacrifice 2”; a rebellion against the typical rock star lifestyle restructures Gucci’s Man’s “Wasted” into the empathetic “Don’t Waste It”; energy almost peaks early when they break out into the tough-as-nails “Hell Yeah (Pimp the System)” [still their best music video]; Lloyd Banks’ earth-shattering beat for “Beamer, Benz or Bentley” is given a sharp political reshape with “Malcolm, Garvey, Huey”.

No matter what’s pumping over the speakers, M1 and stic.man bang on every beat with breathless, lyrically dense flows that are better received behind podiums and in history classes than dark nightclubs. They give pause to acknowledge indigenous cultures around the world, including the land on which we all stand. “Salute to the makers of culture”.

It’s bigger than hip hop.

They roll out a track called “Time Travel” and then explain why they tackled such an abstract concept. “It’s about having a long view, not today’s view”, M1 points to the crowd. “They tryna put a cap on our vision”. The song, made to encourage people to plan for the future, is but one of many designed to truly lead and empower.

Even more pointed is stic.man’s rhymes about going to the gym, getting healthy and eating right, spun into the “fit hop” subgenre that has redefined his approach to art in previous years. It’s a preview for his forthcoming album The Workout 2, which continues down the path of turning his revolution inwards and encouraging people to do the same – of actively rebelling against the promotion of an unhealthy culture that oppresses minds and maintains classicism.

It’s bigger than hip hop.

With each having an established and distinctive solo career, stic.man and M1 merge solo acapella raps to show that even when they diverge, they’re still very much unified by the need to uplift, empower and challenge. By the time “Hip Hop” finally rings out, expertly reimagined over the flutes of Carlton Williams’ “Prison Song” for the first verse and then blended into the original, it’s clear that dead prez is, was and will likely always be one of the most relevant and important acts that exist for the culture.

It’s always been bigger than hip hop.

FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Dead Prez Australian Tour 2019 – Remaining Dates

Friday 13th December | The Night Cat, Melbourne
Saturday 14th December | Meredith Music Festival

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy Editor of the AU review and a freelance travel writer. You can reach him on Instagram by following @chrisdsingh.

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